Cross-industry collaboration and investing in new technologies will be important factors in training new aircraft technicians and meeting industry demand.
At a workforce panel at Aviation Week’s MRO Asia-Pacific in Singapore on Nov. 1, Wanda Manoth-Niemoller, commercial development manager, KLM Training Engineering & Maintenance, says with aftermarket growth forecast globally over the next 20 years with 35,500 aircraft deliveries expected enter the fleet, this has driven a sizeable demand for more aircraft engineers.
“While newer aircraft will need less maintenance hours, the sheer number of them entering the global fleet will generate the need for an enormous number of staff,” she said about the challenge facing the industry.
One way which the KLM Training unit has aimed to both retain staff and attract new people is through innovation. She says this investment not only makes the job more attractive but also gives the individual greater responsibility for their role along with more flexibility.
Conceding that attracting millennials to work in engineering has never been more difficult, Manoth-Niemoller believes the perceived lack of airlines investing in innovation on the training and operation sides of their businesses will lead to many “missing the boat.”
She cites new innovations such as predictive maintenance playing a bigger role in the day-to-day running of both training and operations, along with a growing penchant for virtual reality which parent group AFI KLM E&M has rolled out at its MRO Lab in Singapore.
“Virtual and augmented reality investment is a means of exploring how to improve processes,” she says. “We recently did a presentation related on a change of a start engine of the GEnx engine with a pair of Microsoft Hololens smart glasses. The old fashioned method took us 45 minutes, but with the Hololens, we were able to take the image required of the engine and the task was completed in just three minutes.”
Speaking from an Asia-Pacific operator’s perspective, Richard Budihadianto, director SBU Sriwijaya air maintenance facility at the PT Sriwijaya Air Group, also backed innovation investment as a good solution towards addressing the skills shortage in Asia-Pacific, which accounts for around 39% of the estimated 600,900 global technician demand over the next 20 years.
“Human resource is the main challenge for us in Indonesia,” he says, noting that industries such as oil and gas and mining had attracted talent away from the country’s aviation sector.
Both panellists agreed specialist training schools are important to ensuring the flow of new technicians. Budihadianto believes that polytechnics provide students with a greater level of industry readiness.
In PT Sriwijaya Air Group’s Indonesia homebase, which is in the rare position of having a large young workforce, he says the government and airlines have worked together with regulators to convert general polytechnics into specialist aviation ones.
The first-hand transfer of practical knowledge from experienced professionals to ones starting out is one major advantage of aviation polytechnics, KLM Training’s Manoth-Neimoller adds.
“When an individual is ready to start in an operational environment, they soon grow into that company and will continue to benefit from guidance from experienced engineers,” she says.